Cliches Clarify or Obscure

By Ann
March 3, 2010
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by Ann Elliott

When was the last time you used a cliché to make a point or tell a story? Have you been annoyed by cliches or the misuse of them?

Experts advise writers and speakers to avoid clichés and slang.   I attempted to eliminate “y’all,” a southern slang expression, from my conversation, for example.  The effort made me aware of how often I used “y’all” in my communication.

The Random House College Dictionary defines cliché as “a trite, stereotyped expression that has lost originality and impact by long overuse.”  Conversation is dull without the colorful and picturesque language of clichés.  When used wisely and accurately, clichés are helpful.

In the last month I have heard two well known professionals use “déjà vu” in two unrelated incidents.  One of them has donated $25 million to the University of South Carolina and the other is an internationally recognized television journalist.  Both of them said, “This is like déjà vu all over again” to explain a situation they experienced or witnessed.  Do these well educated professionals know the meaning of déjà vu or were they quoting Yogi Berra without giving him credit?

Cliché’s are valuable for these reasons:

  • simple language
  • easy to understand
  • pithy and concise
  • widely used
  • colorful and picturesque
  • time tested

The language of business is rife with clichés. They can be quite useful because of the economy of language.  With a few words such as “highly leveraged” you can communicate the idea that a lot of other people’s money is at risk on a highly speculative project and a positive outcome is not assured.

On the other hand, some are misleading.  For example, how can you “give it a 110%”?  It is impossible to give more than 100%.  If you have 26 apples in your basket, you cannot give more than 26 apples.

Do you use a cliché without realizing that you are doing it? Too many catch phrases or buzz words can be mind numbing.   On the other hand, bland language is boring and you lose your audience.

Have fun with these business clichés.  Do they make sense or obscure the message?

  • If you are on a critical path, you wouldn’t go ‘round Robin Hood’s barn because at the end of the day you want the low hanging fruit to cut out-of- pocket expenses.
  • At a come to Jesus meeting think outside the box to find a win-win solution so you don’t get any push back at the table with a lot of skin in the game.
  • If it ain’t broke don’t fix it with your core competencies and leading edge technologies that require big picture thinking for stakeholders that take ownership of the bottom line to manage expectations.
  • Teamwork depends on synergy in any work force reduction with a heads up for an off line conversation to touch base with individual contributors that circle back and have a value add to maximize the potentialities of a monetized idea.

Using business buzz words and clichés can be a no-brainer.  As Bertrand Russell says, “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”  How often have you actually thought about the meaning of the clichés you use habitually?  Does it improve your message or obscure it?

Take note how often you use buzz words and clichés.  Remember to use them appropriately and wisely because too much of a good thing is too much.

© 2010 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

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